Akagera National Park covers over 1000 sq km of savannah west of the Kagera River, which denotes the frontier with Tanzania. It was first established in 1934. The park has beautiful undulating plains with dense, broad-leafed woodland, lighter acacia woodland and rolling grassland with an extensive series of lakes linked by papyrus swamps forming a sprawling wetland. The lakes draw out herds of elephant and buffalo, while the savannah typically attracts giraffe and zebra. More than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated impala, but also the diminutive oribi and secretive bushbuck, as well as the ungainly tsessebe and the world's largest antelope, the statuesque Cape eland. Pods of 50 hippopotami grunt and splutter throughout the day, whilst elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes. Leopard, spotted hyena, civet and serval are present, but rarely observed.
The park lost thousands of animals to heavy poaching in the early 1990s, a period of great instability in Rwanda when Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels began an insurgency from neighbouring Uganda. Some animal species are down to little as one-thirtieth of their 1990 populations. Buffalo, estimated to number 491 in 2002, are down from 10,000 in 1990; impala, another member of the antelope family whose population was estimated at 1,890 in 2002, are down from 30,000 in1990. To further complicate matters, the crush of land-seeking Tutsi refugees returning home in 1997 after decades outside the country led the government to hive off about two-thirds of the park's 1,000 square miles to resettle the returnees from Congo, Tanzania and Uganda who now graze their cattle near - and often inside - the unfenced park.
The Akagera Game Lodge, overlooking the park